It’s always amusing to juxtapose pre-Gray life with our current status as the parents (aka “wranglers”) of a sassy little firecracker of a two-year-old. I think back fondly on the last true vacation Brad and I took prior to expanding our family: our honeymoon. The memories from those blissful two weeks are laced with romantic images of champagne toasts and impromptu outings to open air markets. There were bike rides along the river’s edge, unbelievable cooking classes, and elegant dinners overlooking scenic views. We took leisurely drives across the countryside without anyone asking, “Are we there yet?” and if anyone was cranky about being in the car for too long, it was merely our GPS chastising us for detouring to a charming little antique shop or two. Boy, do those gals get testy when you don’t follow their instructions! I think “Recalculating” is really just a polite way of saying, “Screw you and your directionally dysfunctional incompetence.”
But I digress.
Although Brad and I certainly wouldn’t trade our honeymoon for anything in the world, as evidenced by the photo I’ve included above, we reflect on our voyage with that strange and empty ache of something missing. Sometimes it’s hard to remember our life without Gray in it! We adore our time together even more now that she’s sharing it with us, and the BC (Before Children) years are often a distant memory. Sure, every now and then we crave a bit of alone time over a leisurely and long lunch, but we also cherish the newer memories we are making with our daughter (soon-to-be daughters). Even if they involve a slightly less serene eating experience.
In February, Brad, Gray, and I took a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and visited the Biltmore Estate for a few days. For those who aren’t familiar with the Biltmore, it is the site of George Vanderbilt’s infamous home (read: freaking huge mansion!!) that almost has one convinced he is visiting a French chateau, in lieu of a Southern tourist destination. It measures a whopping 178,926 square feet. There are 65 fireplaces if that gives you any idea! Since the grounds boast a little village full of shops, restaurants, wine tastings, playgrounds, and plenty of other available activities for grown ups and children alike, it seemed to be a good choice for us. The goal was to take a mini-vacation within driving distance, and to indulge in a bit of relaxation. Which, admittedly, can be an oxymoron when you’re traveling with children. It was the first real vacation the three of us have taken together, unless you count visiting family for the holidays… which I don’t, since it is generally a bit more on the chaotic side. Let’s just say “calm” and “restful” aren’t always the best words to describe one of our reunions or gatherings. And that’s putting it mildly! So when my husband unexpectedly wound up with a month off between jobs, we took advantage of the opportunity. We hired a dog sitter, packed everything but the kitchen sink into my car (more on that below), and hit the highway. Can you say road trip?
The Arrival: Dude, What’s In My Car?
Believe it or not, the car ride to Asheville was uneventful, and Gray was a trooper. She fell asleep for the majority of the five-hour drive (two points for planning the voyage during nap time!), and even our chatty GPS couldn’t keep our little Rip Van Winkle from snoozing. Hence, tranquility reigned. That is, of course, until we descended upon the Biltmore Inn like a three-ring circus pitching tents in a small-town field.
In pre-Gray life, Brad and I traveled subtly and under the radar. (Example: we’ve never globe-trotted in matching Mickey Mouse T-shirts and Bermuda shorts, with cameras slung around our necks.) However, I can officially tell you that subtlety has left the building. And the airport. And the hotel room.
After preemptively planning for every situation and catastrophe just shy of the zombie apocalypse, we’d stuffed our vehicle with enough gear to build our own hotel in Asheville. My car essentially became one giant diaper bag. Truthfully, the over-packing was inadvertent; we didn’t realize just how much we’d managed to cram in there until we were forced to see it all on display. But at least it added to the entertainment value! There’s nothing quite like strolling through an upscale hotel lobby with a cart full of toys and food coolers, while depositing a trail of Cheerios behind you like Hansel and Gretel (Not to worry, we cleaned up after ourselves). We brought along so much paraphernalia in fact, it looked like we were expecting a remote, third-world facility lacking in amenities such as running water and electricity. I don’t imagine the Biltmore employees would have been terribly surprised if we’d unloaded a camping stove or an outhouse. Which, I suppose, sort of occurred when we added Gray’s travel potty to the luggage rack. It was the cherry on top of our wacky little spectacle. (And it was clean, I swear!) Two giant carts later, complete with Gray’s favorite stuffed Elmo swinging from the rafters and accompanied by several bemused bellhops, we trekked up to our room whistling The Beverly Hillbillies theme song.
The Dining: Eat, Drink, Man, Woman… and Kid
Restaurant outings used to signify intimate moments spent sharing several-course meals, wine, and adult conversation. You know, back when discussions didn’t involve spelling every other word, lest they fall upon innocent ears. Those dinners even included dessert from time to time, since no one was crying or in desperate need of naptime. Or both. Restaurant tables used to sport candles that could actually remain lit through an entire meal (safety first these days!) and platters weren’t perilously teetering on the edge of destruction, courtesy of little fingers. We could eat our food in peaceful quietude, without having our bread commandeered by someone who insists, “That’s mine now, Mommy,” then proceeds to eat the doughy portion and hand back the crust. Presently, meals together mean endlessly rescuing crayons from the restaurant floor, toting travel cups of apple juice, and immediately locating the nearest restroom with a changing table. They mean insulated snack packs of apple slices and cheese wedges, in case the chef is taking his sweet time that day, and finding that said cheese has somehow wound up plastered to the hotel room mirror by mid-afternoon. (So yeah, that happened!) But all of those crazy antics just add to the amusement of an outing, don’t they? I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “Why are they taking their kid out to nice restaurants instead of hiring a babysitter and going on a date night?” And the short answer is: we are. Once a week, my husband and I have a special evening out together, and it often revolves around food. When we bring Gray along for meals outside of our own home, we do our best to choose family-friendly restaurants where kids are welcome. But the point of a family vacation is to spend time together, no? That’s part of the adventure! And since Elmo refused to babysit Gray in our hotel room (those Muppets can be so darn irresponsible!), she dined along with us. Thankfully, the Biltmore is all about family fun, so they are more than prepared for pint-sized diners… Even in their upscale eateries. We also happen to have a kid who thoroughly adores going out to eat so, to her credit, she’s exceptionally well behaved. I’d love to be able to chalk that up to our parenting skills, but I suspect it has more to do with her affinity for people watching! And when all else fails, at least going out to eat gives Gray the opportunity to enlighten the wait staff. During one Biltmore breakfast, she made sure to inform our waitress, “My Mommy has boobies.” You know, in case there was any confusion.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Which I translate to: Sometimes the fun is in how you manage to make it through a dinner with kids, rather than the dinner itself.
The Main Attractions: Gray in Wonderland, aka All’s Quiet On The Vacation Front
As you can imagine, we did not while away our vacation hours reading juicy novels by the pool or frolicking in the vineyards. (In fact, if I remember correctly, the only book I made it through on our trip was “Llama Llama Red Pajama.”) But to be fair, it was February, so we weren’t planning on a whole lot of sunbathing or pool-time anyway. Nonetheless, we weren’t lacking for entertaining activities to keep us busy, and our visit was more tranquil than you might imagine. Touring the grounds of the Biltmore Estate, we were in awe of the architecture and history. Well, most of us were in awe… One of us fell asleep by the time we hit the second floor, and wound up having her stroller carted up and down the narrow stairwells until the tour was over. It may have qualified as the fanciest naptime ever.
Much to Gray’s jungle gym-loving pleasure, we located the on-site playground. A great deal of running, jumping, and playing in the sandbox ensued, followed by some ice cream. And what 2-year-old could turn that down? For February, our weather was miraculously pleasant, despite the snow they’d had dumped on them not two weeks prior. God bless Mother Nature, because we totally lucked out!
The estate farm offered another diversion, as Gray inspected the livestock and played in the mud. It was quite the beautiful mess. We admired the distinguished horses, laughed at the goofy goats, and chased the squawking fowl. Gray collected stalks of hay, foraged for pebbles, and leapt into puddles with abandon. She even added to her extensive vocabulary, by learning noteworthy new phrases like “chicken poopie.” Thank you, Farmer John. It was quite the education! We were taught about the egg hatchery, and made a game out of narrowly escaping animal landmines. (Which was somewhat akin to a real-life, warped version of Frogger or Pitfall, only without the bonus points for avoiding peril.) And, as if I haven’t already written enough on the unseemly subject, Gray was particularly fascinated by the drastically diverse sizes of animal manure, which was a lesson in and of itself. For argument’s sake, we’ll call it “Waste management 101.” As you can imagine, such an extended conversation about feces with a 2-year-old was a mommy’s dream come true. Yikes. At least it gave us plenty to talk about on our drive back home! (Thankfully, the fascination has since dissipated…)
The Moral of The Story: It’s A Wonderful Life
I sincerely hope you haven’t mistaken any of the aforementioned observations for complaints. They are far from it! As with all my posts, I fancy recounting our parenting adventures with a sense of humor. I have no doubt that Gray’s childhood will feel like it passed us by in a blink, so we’re all for enjoying it while we can! Needless to say, our vacation to Asheville greatly differed from our honeymoon to Europe. Still, that isn’t to suggest it wasn’t equally satisfying. Embracing some quality family time was much needed, and exposing Gray to new experiences was incredibly heart-warming for Brad and I. There’s nothing better than watching a child explore the world around them. We tend to be of the opinion that exotic vacations spent on a beachfront Riviera are overrated. Who needs drinks with little green umbrellas perched on the rim, when we can be intoxicated by making memories with our child instead? Not to mention I’m pregnant, so I think we can all agree that Mai Tais were out of the question anyway!
If you have any hilarious vacation stories you wish to share, I’d love to hear from you…
Until next time… Peace, Love, and Dirty Diapers,
Jenna von Oy
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